Thursday, April 30, 2009

A New Tripod

Kind of an odd day. Slept in some, then to work. In the afternoon I went with Kerrie to the Diocesan Offices. We had a meeting to pick up several boxes of youth and children's ministry resources. These have been sitting in a storage room waiting for a better home, which I hope the ARC will provide. Going through the boxes we saw some excellent books and materials. Tomorrow we'll bring them to the ARC's first home at St. John's York Mills.

Being at the Diocesan Offices meant having some other random but important conversations about other things. The place is especially busy right now because Synod is only a few months away. There is a lot to organize and plan before that. I've got things to do for that, as well, since my team is presenting one of the workshops!

From there it was back to church. Made some progress clearing stuff out off my desk. Then I had a conference call with the other members of the Stewardship Committee. I've never tried a church meeting like this before, but it actually worked quite well for all of us. All we had to do was call a certain number and then enter a code to get into the conversation. I wonder whether we'll ever get to video telepresence...

After that I stopped by Henry's Camera/Video store to get a new tripod for the church video camera. The old one is falling apart and was never very good to begin with. The new one has a much nicer "fluid pan" head. I ended up also getting UV filters for both cameras and a flash cap. Before doing the videos at Holy Cross this summer I may have to pick up some kind of better audio and light solutions. The Canon HV20 is a great video camera, and with the right microphone and lights can easily match cameras worth thousands more. Henry's is a really interesting place to browse--lots of wonderful toys!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Well, since the World Health Organization has raised the Pandemic Alert Level to 5 (out of a possible 6), the Diocese of Toronto has automatically implemented it's Influenza Response Plan (actually, the plan was activated at level 4). That includes various protocols and policies to be followed around things like the common cup and pastoral visiting. Thanks to SARS, the Diocese is relatively well prepared for this kind of thing.

Bishop Johnson sent a pastoral letter out by e-mail essentially saying, "prepare, but don't panic."

Kind of scary, actually. No one likes to pull the red binder off the shelf...


Sermon - Easter 3 2009

I continued the theme of Faith and it's development in Christian Discipleship with this week's brief homily.

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dualist and the Resurrection

I regularly read blogs that discuss the Sunday Bible Readings. My favourite of these is probably the Disclosing New Worlds blog. In the reflection from last week's Sunday readings (Luke 24:36-48) there is this gem:
The key question is whether this world and these bodies of ours have a future with God. It’s a question, therefore, about the meaning and content of salvation. Resurrection says that salvation is recreation - salvation for this world. God could have done at least two things differently. The first is to have abandoned us and our world because we rejected God. Resurrection tells us that God doesn’t do that - even when we have resisted God’s companionship to the point of murdering God’s Son! The second is to abandon creation but not human beings. In this case, salvation would be escape or rescue from the world. God could say, “You are not your bodies. The ‘real you’ is non-material. And this world isn’t ultimately ‘real’ - ultimate reality is another place altogether, called heaven. So let me rescue you from all this mess of creation (bodies, earth etc)”. God, in other words, could be a dualist.

But resurrection is anti-dualist. God isn’t a Hindu, or Buddhist, or classical Greek deity. The Hebrew and Christian God is a God who is inextricably linked to creation by love and a determination to save what has been created. Matter matters! Bodies matter! God embraces body in Jesus (Incarnation) and enters into our world. God becomes part of our world. And God does so in order to save it by transforming it into all that it was always intended to be. (source)

Yes, yes! Matter matters! I can't tell you how often I've preached this point. Yet the latent gnosticism of our culture (or perhaps gnosticism in inherit in some way--an aspect of original sin/existential guilt?) still tries to emerge! Sigh.

I remember eating lunch with Marilyn Adams (hard-core philosopher and theologian) in seminary many years ago and someone asked her about the meaning of bodily resurrection. She replied that she thought this was a teaching about how our distinctness from each other will be preserved in our resurrected state. In other words, our experience autonomy or separateness will have continuity between this world and next. Whereas other things, like the limitations of death or disease, will not have continuity. This is a very powerful teaching that generally doesn't get sufficient press.


Memories of New Haven

Bernard, one of the Holy Cross Brothers, was providing spiritual direction to students at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale this year. I'm an alum of that great school, but in my days we didn't have the kind of strong relationship with OHC as a school that has developed in the years since Joseph Brinton took over as Dean. I'm really happy that the students have an opportunity to receive spiritual direction, and I know that Bernard has a real gift for that work.

Bernard also took the opportunity to learn about Yale and to enjoy the pleasures the University and city have to offer. His friend, Lewis Folden (also a Yale Alum) gave him a very nice tour that you can read about on Lewis' site.

Reading about their visit to New Haven makes me a bit nostalgic for the five years I spent I spent there (three for my degree and another two twiddling my thumbs waiting for ordination and then doing a CPE Residency). It's the longest time I've spent in one area since before High School!

I miss getting real Pizza like they make at Sally's or Pepe's. New Haven pizza has a cult-like following, check out the Wikipedia page on it if you don't believe me. Thin-Crust, wood-fired, not too cheesy.

I also miss a wonderful Turkish place, The Istanbul Café, that used to have Belly Dancing on Friday nights and even hosted occasional classes on Turkish cooking. They had an area where you could sit on the cushions on an elevated floor to enjoy your Meze. Now that I've been to Turkey, I'm sure I would enjoy it even more.

But it wasn't all just good food and grand buildings and the wonders of Yale. I worked in a homeless shelter at nights for a year and then later as a Hospital Chaplain. I also worked as a Personal Assistant to an African-American woman who was an advocate for various causes relevant to the urban poor in New Haven. Those experiences exposed to the underside on New Haven. One of the thing I did for her was research into her family history. I spent many hours in the vital statistics vaults in New Haven, Bridgeport, and other cities looking up old birth and death certificates to track her family all the back to slavery days. In the process I heard a lot of stories about what it was like to be black in New Haven now and in the past.

I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to go back to New Haven. Now that I have a close friend in Bridgeport I have a reason to be in that area, at least....


Strange Moments in Cultural Exchange

One of the things that interests me is the interaction between otherwise separate cultures. The cross-cultural exchange is one of the most important dynamics of social exchange to understand these days. It's one of the reasons I went abroad to study in Nepal in College. With Pakistan in the news so much, the problems of translation or exchange are on my mind.

Of course, the intersection between the Islamic East and the West is particularly fraught right now. The culture of Pakistan is so fundamentally different from that of North America that the exchange between the two deserves a lot of attention. So when I saw this article in the New York Times it really caught my attention. There is a company in Pakistan that makes leather fetish gear for export to the West. Despite being located in the heart of one of the most conservative cultures in the world and receiving threats from hardliners, this business manages to thrive. Most of the people working there have no idea what they are making, but the design department in the basement and the owners sure do! Why fetish wear? Because the owners of the company started off looking for a niche market for leather goods and stumbled upon this one. My favourite line in the piece, "70% of our customers are Democrats." No kidding. Also note the cognitive dissonance of the business manager, who has some idea what his company makes but no idea why anyone would want it.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Sermon - Easter 2 2009

The Second Sunday of Easter includes the famous story of "Doubting" Thomas. I used these lessons to talk about faith and doubt and about our role as a "faithful" witness to our community.

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Sunday, April 26, 2009

May's Anglican Column

Here is my column from the May edition of The Anglican:

I wrote this while on retreat at Holy Cross. Obviously that comes across!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Updates: Stewardship, ARC, Healing Prayer, Geeks for Jesus, OHC Website, OH MY!

I'm still really buzzed about the ideas the Stewardship Committee came up with. I was at a dinner party with a professor from Wycliffe last night and I ran the idea by him and he saw the potential immediately. In fact, David Reed and I seemed to eye-to-eye on a lot stuff about Mission and Ministry and the future of the churches. I'm anxious to share more about this project, but it's still too young an idea to expose just yet...

Meanwhile, some of my other projects roll on. Next week we have an ARC meeting to start looking at the physical space and making plans for transforming it. we also need to start thinking about a job description: "ARC seeks Noah." I know that the grant committee is only just starting to consider applications, but there is plenty to do even before we receive word. If we don't get the grant we can still start building the ARC, only it be a lot more difficult!

The Healing Prayer service continues to delight me. We had another first-timer today. The folks that have been gathering have been wonderfully loving and generous-hearted. I'm really happy about the vibe and the way this ministry is flourishing right from the get-go. It will be fascinating to see how the Mother's Group starts rolling. After that I'll start getting the down town bible study established again.

Geeks for Jesus hasn't had a lot of movement lately. I think we need to schedule our next meeting now that we are all through Easter. If we want to pull together a conference in the fall than we need to set a date for that and start planning. Not to mention fleshing out our Wiki with useful stuff!

I've decided that during my vacation this summer I'm going to go to Holy Cross for a few months and revamp their website. We are already having some preliminary conversations about what the community would like from the new website. Personally, I'm looking forward to adding more media. Randy has been building a very impressive catalogue of photos and several of the brothers, including the Prior, have blogs. So channelling this content into the website is going to be more about setting up structures than getting the community to change much about what it is doing already. My goal is going to be establish something that makes their lives easier and connects them more to the world in the ways they wish to be connected. Candles under bushel baskets and all that...


Friday, April 24, 2009


Just recently the Stewardship Committee of the church had it's first meeting. It went extremely well and the ideas flowed fast and furious. Lots of creativity and energy! I'm looking forward to sharing more of what we came up with once it's formed. We looked at the programme recommended by the Diocese, but then took it a few steps further that take it into new ground. More specifically, we've cup with a way of making it more missional. I'll write more about what we have in mind later...

This week has been busy, I'm definitely looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning and then having a relatively light day at work. Perhaps I'll finally finish editing the video from Sunday's sermon!

Lately I've been intrigued by the possibility of building my own sports car--specifically a variation of the Shelby Cobra. I'm not talking about building a replica of the 60's era car, but rather marrying the classic styling with the best of modern technologies. For instance, you can build a cobra-like roadster with anti-lock breaks and an advanced dual-overhead cam, fuel injected engine. Many people do this by buying a used Mustang to use as a "donor." The engine, transmission, breaks, power steering etc. are then used in conjunction with a kit that provides the frame, suspension, body, etc., etc. The other option is to build car completely from new parts, also with a kit. Either way, one the most popular such kits, made by Factory Five, is designed to keep project costs to about $24,000 (including the donor car) and 200 hours of labour. That's an extremely reasonable price (both in terms of time and money) when you consider that the typical Cobra kit-built car can outperform almost any production exotic sports car. Even with a 350HP V-8 it can accelerate faster than a Porsche 911 and is only beaten in 0-60 by the $650,000 Enzo Ferrari! If that's not good enough, you can get even more powerful engines until you reach the car's design limit of 1,000HP. Yes, people have put a 1,000HP engine in a 2,000 lbs convertible!

A Factory Five Mark 3 Roadster

These kits are available from a number of different companies, and there is a very large community of helpful enthusiasts to lend advice during the project. Reading about it on-line, I'm extremely impressed by what "average joes" have been able to build in their home garages without a lot of special equipment or even experience at car-building.

So my fantasy is to spend two months some summer building my own car by hand. Alas, this will probably have to wait a few years until whatever kids we might have are off to University and I've got both the time and the money to do such a project. I'm reminded of the New York Times reporter that built a Cobra as a father-son project. Maybe when Betsy and I have kids I'll take on a project like that with my son or daughter. We'll see, I'm getting ahead of myself!

Why do I find this so compelling? I think I just enjoy the craft of building something as complex and sexy as a really hot car. I get great satisfaction from using a computer that I built myself, and this is really just an extension of that. What can I say, I like building stuff!

Speaking of ORAC (my computer)... That project went extremely well. I've had no troubles at all with that set-up. At least, not from a hardware point of view--Windows Vista can be temperamental sometimes. But I find the processing horsepower of that beast very helpful with all the video and audio editing I've been doing lately.

Anyway, time for bed. I'm tired.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Reflections on Pastoral Care

Yesterday was brutal: Mass, preaching, lunch with parishioners and then 4.5 hours worth of pastoral counselling! It's a strange phenomenon, but the demands on my pastoral care giving definitely clusters. I'll go weeks and weeks without much more than dealing with the normal low-level stuff and then, BANG, I'll have several unrelated situations pop up at once. Why yesterday? I have no idea. Some were people I know, others were more random. Some were situations I knew I would be dealing with, but most were not. So a few observations from a long day giving this kind of support:

What you (the Counsellor) need, you will be given
I really wondered a couple of times whether I would have the energy toward the end of the day to be useful in my role as a Pastor, but each time I sat down with someone I found myself becoming energized by the engagement. Once you start listening to the story, you find you have all the energy you need.

I also find, in my experience, that it's pretty useless to spend much energy before hand trying to prepare a response. "The answer is always in the client," I remember one of my mentors in Social Work telling me. And it's true! When I listen to someone in need I usually have no trouble at all realizing what to do and say in that moment. It's not magic, just a lot of experience, training, and prayer.

There is a special relationship between the Pastor's Prayers and Pastoral Care
I find that my personal devotions and prayers have taken on a very different quality since I become directly involved in ministry. It's not just that I have specific people and situations to pray about, but that somehow the pastoral relationship (me to parishioner) changes the priestly relationship (me to God). Hard to describe--but I just know that the more engaged I am in any particular season of my ministry with people in need the more I find my prayer life feeling very different.

One difference is that I'm often very aware of God's presence in counselling situations. I can feel it. Moreover, I sometimes feel as though I'm intuiting how I can cooperate with that grace. I'm not saying that's always the case--but often I feel very clear in my own self about God's presence and affection and how I should be incarnating that.

It's a wonderful confirmation of vocation (which we all need from time-to-time) to be sitting a chair listening and talking and praying and just know, deep in your bones, that you are doing exactly what God wants you to be doing. This is all the more striking when I note that the person I'm counselling doesn't necessarily see it that way! Love can be gentle, but love can be pretty sharp sometimes, too.

I'm not trying to say I'm any kind of master counsellor or anything, just that I really like the way God is shaping me through this ministry. I haven't spoken this deeply about pastoral care with any of my colleagues recently, but I suspect many of them may have similar feelings.


Monday, April 20, 2009


I saw this image in the AGO on Sunday: William Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience. It's a very famous painting from the Pre-Raphaelites.
The group challenged the artistic, political, social and religious values of the time. Taking subjects from history, literature and modern life, Hunt addressed gender relations, the crisis of faith and problems in the Middle East – difficult issues which have resonance for us today. The exhibition brings together more than 60 works, including Hunt's most famous paintings, The Awakening Conscience, The Light of the World and Isabella and the Pot of Basil. Also on view are costumes from the artist's studio, works on paper and historical documents. (source)

The story is that this "wayward" woman sitting on this dude's lap suddenly realized the error of her slutty ways while singing a sentimental song about the innocence of childhood. There are various cues to read that from the painting--for instance the clock in the painting is decorated with a depiction of "chastity binding cupid." Also note that she is wearing a ring on every finger except where a wedding ring would be.

Part of the backstory is that Hunt had a relationship with the woman he used as a model, and had hoped to convert her to faith. When the painting was originally exhibited it shocked victorian sensibilities (which is not hard to do) and the first owner convinced Hunt to "soften" the woman's expression--a work the painter was unable to complete before his death. The painting is ripe for analysis on many levels. For instance, while it seems to focus on the woman's sin in this relationship without necessarily giving any responsibility to the man, I think the focus on the woman's agency is important. We are invited to enter into her subjectivity, I think, and that's a good thing.

One writer commented that the picture can be read as a response to the even more famous The Light of the World. In other words, this the human response to Christ knocking on the soul's door. Pretty cool.


The War

Lately the NYTimes has had some excellent accounts of the battles going on in Afghanistan. An example is this audio and slide show. One of things that is remarkable about this is that the embed reporter got not only still photos during the battle, but audio as well. Needless the say, the distinctive sound of real m-16s (note the three round burst) and M-249's (longer, sustained volleys) is very different from the movies. Also interesting is to hear the platoon commander giving orders in the midst of the ambush--mostly he seems to be saying pretty useful things: stay here, go there, etc. The accompanying article details how the ambush played out showing how both the Taliban and U.S. forces are both experienced fighters who press their advantages.

Needless to say, the American response to what could have been a devastating ambush was swift, complex, and deadly. One American soldier was killed (in the initial IED explosion), but the pinned-down platoon managed to fight its way out of the riverbed where it had been trapped.

This is the same embed reporter and platoon that ambushed a Taliban column that was, itself, on the way to set up an ambush of American forces a few weeks ago. In that battle at least 13 insurgents were killed using claymore mines, grenades, machine gun fire, and a knife. Yes, one of the U.S. soldiers killed an insurgent with his knife. Obviously, the coalition forces are highly motivated to win this fight.

On the Canadian side of things, a recent Discovery Chanel documentary/series followed a Company training for its first deployment. I noticed how the military culture and training techniques differ between the U.S. and Canada. One Canadian Officer proudly explained to me, at a cocktail party, that the Canadian forces still operate with the mentality of a citizen militia. There isn't the same sense of a military culture. Consider that the U.S. has 1.5 million men and women in active duty vs. 65 thousand Canadians. Defence budgets compare as about $700 billion to $20 billion. That puts the U.S. second only to China in terms of the number of active duty military! Canada ranks 46 out of 107 on that same list, between Venezuela and Romania. I'm not criticizing, just explaining how the military is a different thing in the U.S. vs. Canada.

But victory in Afghanistan is going to be much more complex than the Canadian, U.S. and coalition forces winning military victories. This is mostly, IMHO, going to be about whether the U.S. can establish an effective government that can provide for its citizens and protect them. The results of that mission are still pending.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

AGO Sunday

Sunday attendance was kind of soft today, which is unsurprising after last week's easter church-a-thon. But I thought my sermon turned out well and most things seemed to be running well. I see a lot of stuff I would like to improve--for example there is way to much "junk" in the Vestry--but these are mostly long-term kinds of projects that don't keep me up much at night. Sometimes I wish I had a proper "sexton" would keep on top of things like making sure the chairs are arranged correctly and that stuff gets put away correctly. Right now it falls on me to catch all the details missed by AA's clean-up crew or the cleaners. As I was picking up week-old leaflets and bits of trash I thought how if I was on vacation or something this task would probably not happen, but it wouldn't really matter so much. I mean, really, how often do these details make a difference? But at least it's something I have control over!

After the service I gave counsel to a random person who stopped by looking for help. From there it was off to the AGO with the youth/confirmation group. Betsy led us to select pieces on display and engaged the kids about what they could learn from them. Eventually we split up into two groups for a scavenger hunt of a sort. We went looking for specific pieces and then answered pre-arranged questions about them. I really like the AGO a lot, and spending the afternoon with our kids there looking at art was pleasant, indeed.

Came home. Watching baseball. Will go grocery shopping in a little while, so it goes...


Drive Thru Church

Courtesy of the Generation (Young Canadian Anglicans) blog.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pastor as Super Hero

Matthew Caldwell, priest friend, found this online when looking for clergy shirts...


John Madden Retires

John Madden, the most-winning NFL coach in history and probably the most famous sport caster, also, just announced his retirement from game commentary. There is a lot to admire about this guy, besides his love for Turkducken the guy was an honest-to-God Football Genius. I mean, he saw through the game to levels of insight that were incredibly impressive. Non sports fans may underestimate him, but there is probably no one alive that understands football as deeply as John Madden! He will be missed!



Very funny. The ad was created for the R.C. churches in Queens and Brooklyn by the Forza Migliozzi advertising agency in Hollywood. It was written by Michael Migliozzi and directed by George P. Rausch, of Modified Ideas. I haven't been able to find out anything about "Father Vic"--but I strongly suspect he was just an actor--how many Roman Catholic priests look like him these days?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sermon - Easter Sunday

As I said before, Easter Sunday was a blast. One of the several highlights was a great example of liturgical dancing. Matthew first played through "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" with the organ and everyone singing. Then the bass player and the drummer and the choir came in and sang it again, but this time we did a simple 8-count dance with it. Meghan had showed everyone ahead of time and we simply danced in this fashion down the aisle, around the sides, and then back up again. It worked perfectly (or as perfectly as any whole-congregation dance is ever going to work)! I put about 45 seconds of the dance in the video to give you a sense of what it looked like. Not the best angle, but you can see that people were enjoying themselves and really being joyful, which was the point!

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sheep Art


A Little Rumi in the Morning

These spiritual window-shoppers,
who idly ask, 'How much is that?' Oh, I'm just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? "Nowhere."
What did you have to eat? "Nothing much."

Even if you don't know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

-Rumi, 'We Are Three', Mathnawi VI, 831-845

Sunday, April 12, 2009

News Stories

ABC News last night ran several stories of interest to me. For one thing, there was a segment about one my favorite churches: St. Paul's Chapel, Manhattan. The Chapel barely (some say miraculously) survived the collapse of the neighboring World Trade Centre and became a centre of ministry to the rescue workers for months afterwards and then an important American pilgrimage site for years. They just cleaned enough of the 9/11 dust out of the organ to play it again for the first time since 9/11. Both Marilyn Haskel and Daniel Simmons, who were at the St. Gregory of Nyssa Conference in San Francisco with me last year, have brief interviews on the segment. Daniel is new on the staff of Trinity Church (which includes St. Paul's Chapel) and has a great job title: "Priest for Pilgrimage." Cool guy

Also in the news, I see that the Obamas went to St. John's, Episcopal, for Easter Morning worship. The are taking their time picking a permanent church home in D.C., but I'm glad that St. John's is considered a fine "safety church" for them to attend when they can't think of anywhere better! Actually, there have been a number of news stories (including on the Daily Show) about the competition between various churches in D.C. Several of the churches in contention have had their pastors vetted by Obama's people, no doubt fearful of another Rev'd Wright situation! It seems the President likes to take his time with decisions that aren't time critical. But at least he's finally found a dog!

And then there was the rescue of the Maersk Alabama Captain... Wow. Imagine the skill required to shoot from a moving ship to a moving lifeboat and then the exponential difficulty of determining when all three pirates were vulnerable and then simultaneously shooting all of them. Don't mess with the Seals. I actually met a SEAL once, dude was short but tough as nails. As part of his daily workout he would tow a rubber boat behind him as he swam in the Potomac.

Other news... Everyone seems to have wonderful Easter Celebrations. I'm still elated about how well things went at Messiah this week. I'm so proud of my congregation and love them dearly. They are a fantastic group of people and I'm so happy that we beginning to harvest some fruit from the last year of work!


Quick Post

The Great Vigil went well, though I was a bit more hectic running around getting everything ready than I would have liked to have been. It's such a gorgeous liturgy that I am loath to stop doing it even though we only get 10-15 people. Marili sang a great Exultant.

Then today went off very smoothly. The staff and I had worked had to make a great experience of Easter Sunday, and many things turned out even better than I anticipated. Attendance this morning was equal to last-year's, but considering the extra people at Maundy Thursday and Good Friday I'm considering this to have been an uptick from last year. I try not to get caught up in attendance numbers, but there is apart of that does, no matter how I try otherwise, care about whether we growing numerically.

More importantly, there are a lot things in place now that weren't here a year ago, and the Spirit of the place is transformed and renewed. So much energy and enthusiasm. I am, of course, exhausted now. I'll post some video (including of us doing liturgy dance!) later in the week....


Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon - Good Friday

This Good Friday sermon turned out really well. I got quite emotional about half way through but managed to not cry--definitely in the moment. I owe some credit to Deborah Meister, one of my seminary friends, who preached a sermon in 2002 that began in a similar way to this one (using Psalm 22 and also the poem "In The Desert" by Stephen Crane). But after the first couple of paragraphs I depart from her sermon completely. Too bad, in a way, because she continues the thread about the self-destructive, gnawing-on-your-own-hand, stuff with a fascinating quote from a Pakistani General. He really thought Pakistan should go head and nuke India and receive the retaliation and just get the whole thing over with. Scary. Deborah got her Ph.D. from UCLA in English Literature before pursuing her call to the cloth, so she always had excellent literary quotes!

Our Good Friday liturgy at COTM was powerful. Attendance was much higher than last year--a whopping 70 (up from 44 last year). There were seven or eight visitors, but most of the jump was due to the fact that the kids (and thus, their families) were much more engaged with Holy Week this year thanks to the Youth group Maundy Thursday Vigil. In fact, the kids never went home this morning!

Last night I did indeed walk to St. Mary Magdalene's to visit the Sacrament there while the kids were doing their part at my own church. It was a beautiful walk under a full Pascal Moon. I said the Stations of the Cross while I walked from the devotionally handy St. Augustine's Prayer Book. I thought of the city. I prayed for the people I saw enjoying the first night of a long weekend. When I arrived at SMM it was warm and bright and clean feeling. A parishioner was keeping watch with the vigil. I said some prayers, lit a candle, and walked home. A fitful sleep.

Today the Rev'd Marili Moore, our Honorary Assistant, served as Liturgical Deacon and also sang with the choir. We made good use of her gifts, and that's her singing the Good Friday Antiphon of the Cross in the title sequence of the sermon video below. After the cross was brought in the three of us, myself, Marili, and the server all did full prostration in front of the cross. It's the sort of thing you might expect in a more Anglo-Catholic parish, but my folks here like it just fine. Incense, on the other hand, is still out--too many people with allergies.

The music was perfect and included the Gospel hymn "Were You There" as well as "Pie Jesu" from Webber's Requiem Mass. Though my favourite hymn was naturally "Pange Lingua" (sung in English--sorry Geoff). Really powerful stuff.

It never ceases to amaze me how good liturgy can transform moments, people, and even places...

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Judith Warner's Faith-of-No-Faith

As she often does, Judith Warner touches on the spirit-of-the-moment in her latest NYTimes blog. She's discussing her beliefs and how although she doesn't feel that she fits into any traditional faith category, she feels that her children are really missing something by not growing up with a language of faith:
I am Jewish. But for nine years, from age 5 to 13, I attended an Episcopal school, went to chapel, sang in the choir. To this day, in good moods, my mind fills with hymns, and on a certain kind of spring day, a day that’s full of promise and hope, I see sunshine streaming in through stained glass windows, graceful specks suspended in the light over highly polished wood pews.

I would never call myself a Christian. But if you begin the Lord’s Prayer, I will join in, with feeling.


I know there are a lot of people who view people like my friend and me as “confused.” And yet, I can tell you that she and I – and my somewhat striking number of other friends whose faiths are other than what they “ought” to be by virtue of their upbringing – don’t feel confused at all. Some of us just can’t find a home for ourselves in the categories of identity that make sense for other people. Some of us are defined by little bits and pieces of experience and belief that together form a mosaic that for us, at least, is coherent and whole. (source)

I hear this sort of thing often, especially from well-educated folks who pride themselves on being open-minded and familiar with other cultures. There are a lot of people who feel this way among Betsy's peers at the University. Notable, to me, is the nostalgia for the culture sustained by institutional religion as well as the regret for its decline. But there is also a sense of displacement, as though they are part of a spiritual diaspora. It's the sort of thing we would expect from a culture that is becoming rapidly post-Christendom. Still, I have tremendous hope and faith that the Holy Spirit knows what She is doing...


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Maundy Thursday Service

Much busy-ness getting ready for the liturgy. Ten minutes looking for a suitable patten. Five minutes looking for suitable pitcher. I was frazzled as we began.

After a beautiful service for the lighting of the evening lamp and the blessing of bread (read in Hebrew) my people sit down for an Agape-style meal. As we eat one of my parishioners tried to convince me that Jesus was not frazzled, but relaxed at the Last Supper. I argue the opposite, that he was in fact quite tense about what was coming, and that the he was worried he could be arrested at any moment, and that he thought his disciples should be more worried than they were. But I understand that my being frazzled is not something he wants to see, but it's who I am at that moment, fretting about the details.

Tables cleared, I say the Mass. The sacrament is passed hand to hand in silence around the tables. The kids table is especially solemn--they get it.

After that, more scripture then the washing of the feet. I know the BAS calls for Washing of the Feet after the sermon, not after Communion, but I'm just following my Lord's example. My knees hurt. I begin regretting that I wasn't wearing more vestments for padding. A parishioner comes over and offers me a towel for my knees but I refuse, it would just get in the way. Washing feet. Clean feet, stinky feet. Big feet, kid feet. I'm working up a sweat, I don't mind that the people see how hard service is. Follow me. Serve to lead.

More scripture--the agony in the Garden and the arrest. Silence. lights turn off. Candles blown out. Altar stripping as we sing Taize. More lights off. At last with the room bare, even of tables and chairs, I carry the Tabernacle to the Vestry as the head of the chancel guild follows with the sanctuary candle. People filter out.

Except the confirmation kids. They are spending the night with their teachers in vigil. I put the tabernacle and the sanctuary candle back on the altar for them. Then sit down in the near darkness for some prayers of my own. St. Augustine's Prayerbook, an old friend at times like these. I look at the icon on the door of the tabernacle and it looks back at me. Jesus.

Vigils I have known: the crypt chapel at Holy Cross, Holy Faith Church in L.A., St. Luke's chapel in seminary, St. John's, NJ, the eve of my ordination, St. Mary Mag's, Church of The Messiah... Stories for another day....

I'm no longer frazzled, but calm and warm with pride for the people that were here (nearly twice as many as last year) and the people that weren't. I'm proud for the kids who are spending the night. I'm thinking of all the people around the world sitting vigil with our Lord. I'm thinking that I should walk, tonight, back to St. Mary Magdalene and say some prayers there. Then maybe check in on my own kids tonight as they draw close to the Lord. Love. Love. Love.


Maundy Thursday and Service

Many years ago I was part of the Episcopal Urban Intern Program in Los Angeles. It was one the hardest things I've done in my life, partially because the community collapsed (or, probably never really formed to begin with) and I ended up moving out and continuing the internship part on my own without community. It was not pleasant, but I'm certainly not trying to blame anyone for any of it. Anyway, one of the people that was in my EUIP year was Sarah Nolan, who is now a chaplain at California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI). She has recently begun a new ministry called The Abundant Table. It looks me to me kind of like a rural equivalent of the EUIP experience: a year-long intensive internship for young Christians who want to live in community. They will be living an working on a farm learning about sustainable agriculture. Very cool. Here's their vision:
The Abundant Table Farm Project is a young adult Christian community seeking a contemporary rhythm of life with a land based ministry in Ventura County. The goal of this internship is to connect with young adults who are attuned to the destructive disconnect between land and table in our culture.
The Abundant Table Farm Project seeks to provide an alternative model of living for young adults interested in vocational discernment around spirituality, community, and stewardship of Creation. ATFP hopes to create a space where young adults can negotiate what it means to live out the gospel message within the local community and the broader church, in our current context of human beings alienated from each other and the earth.

This project will equip young adults with practical and spiritual skills for creating sustainable community and agriculture. ATFP participants will leave our program with first-hand knowledge of issues related to the above mentioned disconnect--including environmental sustainability; organic, small scale agriculture vs. industrial agribusiness; community health and access to unprocessed foods, especially as it relates to disadvantaged communities; immigration and labor issues--and a passion to work for justice around these issues.

Hearing this project connects a lot of threads for me: my year of service in L.A., my failure at living in community with my peers there, my interest in food reform, and the idea of creating alternative expressions of Christianity, to name a few. I really have spent a lot of my life in service to others, and sometimes I need to remind myself about that when I get too self-incriminatory.

I spend some energy fretting about whether I do enough for the people in my congregation and community. Hard not to feel guilty for coming in to work at 11 AM this morning, even though I know I have a long night at the church ahead of me. That kind of thing. Maundy Thursday is the perfect time to reflect on how I go about serving my people. And when I do I think about all the things I should be doing. Like a supper series. I need to have more people in my home just to get to know each other.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Getting my Nerd On

I spent a hour or two this morning learning about the copyright protection (known as Digital Rights Management or DRM) used by Microsoft for encrypting music files. This is a very complex topic, which reflects the back-and-forth between Microsoft and those that don't believe in copyright. The first effort of the crackers is to remove copy protection from music to which they possess the correct licence. In other words, if you purchase a song and listen to it on your computer, is it possible to then copy it to your iPod, CD player, etc. This turns out to be not so difficult--there are at least two basic methods for doing this.

The much more difficult task is outright cracking a protected file (without having the licence to begin with). This turns out to be very, very hard. Those with an interest in cryptography would enjoy reading about the guts of the Microsoft Encryption scheme here. There are several levels, but the heart of it is what's called Elliptic curve cryptography. This is a version of "Public-Key Cryptography" which is the fundamental method behind most of the encryption we use on a daily basis for protecting our cell-phone conversations, credit card numbers sent through the internet, etc., etc. Essentially, the idea is that I can scatter about a "key" that can be used to encrypt messages for me that only I can read. Even though an enemy may have my public key and a message encoded with it and even the original plain text, they still can't discover what my "private key" is because the mathematical puzzle to be solved is too difficult.
Public-key cryptography is based on the intractability of certain mathematical problems. Early public key systems, such as the RSA algorithm, used the product of two large prime numbers as the puzzle: a user picks two large random primes as his private key, and publishes their product as his public key. While finding large primes and multiplying them together is computationally easy, reversing the process is thought to be hard. It is generally recommended that RSA public keys be 1024 bits in length to render integer factoring algorithms infeasible. (source)

Rather than use the problem of factoring a very large number which is the product of two primes, ECC relies on the problem of finding the discrete Log of an element of an ellipse. The nature of this problem allows for a smaller key size with equivalent strength as the older, large prime number problem.

One of the really cool things about all is that these schemes can be easily broken by a type of computer which has been theorized, but never built. It's called a quantum computer, and it has the ability (theoretically) to easily decode these public-key encryption methods. Of course, no one has yet been able to build such a device, but if (perhaps when) they do, the world is going to shift it a big way. Besides cryptography, quantum computers will make it possible to solve lots of problems that are currently difficult to solve in chemistry, physics, and information technology. So far the quantum computers that have been built have not been able to solve more than trivial questions, but lot of money is funding the research.

I wonder about the implications for quantum computing on the social sciences (including theology). Using game theory, it may be possible to discover and demonstrate the relationships between many kinds of phenomena that are currently intractable. Very cool stuff.


Rowan Atkinson on The Wedding at Cana

Rowan Atkinson does, indeed, do a good "Vicar."


Robbin Williams on The Life of Jesus

A good Episcopal boy, Robin Williams always has funny things to say about religion.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Explaining Religion

Last night Betsy and I attended this year's Wiegand lecture at Victoria College (part of the U of T) entitled "Explaining Religion." The Wiegand lecture is always exploring the intersection of science and religion, and this year's speaker, Professor Harvey Whitehouse of Oxford, was applying cognitive science and anthropology to explain the phenomenon of religion. In other words, his life's work is based on the premise that the universality of religion across cultures is the result of the human brain working in a certain way that gives rise to the religious impulse.

On the face of it, the idea that the human brain is wired to interact with a spiritual dimension to life is not a problem for me. I'm not offended by the notion that brains are part of the God thing, which is why it sometimes puzzles me when people freak out when they hear that stimulating certain parts of brain can make someone feel "spiritual" in one way or another. Really, I don't think this undermines the claims made by faithful at all.

But the methods and presumptions that Whitehouse makes in his effort to "explain" religion have a lot of problems. For one thing, the whole category of "religion" is really a modern, Western concept that would be unrecognizable in many other cultures and times. So to arbitrarily group one set of human behavioural and cognitive phenomenon is to determine the outcome ahead of time. Second, he is critical of previous attempts by great thinkers in the humanities to "explain" religion (cf. Freud, Marx, etc.) because they attempted to put the origin of religion on too simple a concept. But even though Whitehouse is arguing for a variety of cognitive features of the brain that give rise to a variety of religious thoughts and behaviours, it's still, at the end of the day, possibly naive to think that all aspects of religion can be explained by a sufficiently complex understanding of cognitive science. In other words, just because you have an excellent dictionary doesn't mean you can "explain" literature. The notion that something like religiosity can be "explained" is also possibly naive.

Another thing I found problematic was the notion that religion is a kind of primitive thing that society and individuals "grow" out of. There was a tendency to infantilize the "primitive" tribes he studied. When a questioner compared them (and Roman Catholics) to "children" he did not correct the notion, but instead cooperated with this line of reasoning. Telling was the questioners ignorance ("as far as I'm concerned the Roman Catholic Church's only purpose is to launder money for organized crime") which made the whole auditorium murmur. Again, Whitehouse felt no obligation to defend the people he studies.

He also excuses himself from existential questions. When one person challenged him on the need to engage notions of value and meaning, he brushed these off like a 19th century botanist compiling a taxonomy of exotic orchids. BHe really believes that he can break down every category of human religious belief and practice and that once he does so he'll see clear connections between these and how the brain is structured. Interesting, but I'm not sure it's possible. Whatever categories he uses will probably turn out to be too arbitrary to allow the kinds of patterns he wishes to see emerge.

Still, he had a couple of things to share. For one thing, there is an inverse relationship between the emotional intensity of a ritual and the frequency with which individuals do it. In other words, the more intense the ritual, less frequently it is performed. This makes a sense, though you might have thought there were communities of people that dedicated themselves to frequent, emotionally arousing rituals. Apparently, we humans aren't built that way.

Another thing he has discovered is that people's tendency to give meaning to ritual (exegesis) is related to the emotional arousal. The more emotionally arousing the ritual, the more people give it meaning. Again, this seems intuitive, but has implications for those of us that make a living acting out rituals.

I really regret that I never took the ritual studies course at Yale. But there was only one year when I could have taken it, and the professor teaching it didn't like me very much (which was weird, since I was a big supporter of hers). Betsy took it and got a lot from it.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Sermon - Passion Sunday 2009

Passion (Palm) Sunday is a challenging one to preach: tons of stuff going on. I decided to go with the theme of promise - disappointment - eschatological fulfilment. In other words, even when the Jesus-as-new-king and the discipleship narratives collapse in Mark's version of the Passion, they achieve ultimate fulfilment in a radically unexpected way at Easter. But we are called to accompany Jesus through the pain and torment of this time and not simply skip to Easter!

Here's the audio...

Here's a direct link to the MP3 file...


Food Fairs

One of the things Betsy and I both miss from our more rural childhoods are the kind of rural festivals and fairs that you sometimes see. I have fond memories of going to the county fair in Kansas to see what a prize winning sheep or heifer or pig looks like. We also used to go to a festival celebrating steam-powered machines (mostly tractors) of various kinds. We both have a hankering for an old fashioned fruit-themed fair some some kind. A Peach Fair, for instance, should feature every kind of peach-based food imaginable: pies, preserves, chutneys, stews, etc., etc. Someone should show off their collection of dried peaches that resemble celebrity faces. A local church should be doing a bake sale. Alas, the peach festival we attended last summer in Winona was a huge disappointment. It was muddy. Parking was hard to find. And most of the booths were selling things that had nothing to do with peaches (like hot tubs and clocks made from driftwood).

So I was delighted to read on the Seasonal Ontario Food blog about the Holstein Maplefest. This 15th Annual event, sponsored by the "Egremont Optimist Club," is exactly the kind of celebration of a single food that you might expect. The people that run it are just as interesting in demonstrating rural crafts and the versatility of maple sap as they are in selling home-smoked sausages and kettlecorn. Ferdzy's blog article about their time at the festival includes lots of wonderful pictures.



I just want to commend to you all the new NBC series "Kings." It's sort of a midrash (retelling) of the Book of Samuel. It stars Ian McShane (whom I loved in Deadwood) as King Silas (aka Saul). In the pilot a young soldier from a farming family (David Shepherd) manages to destroy a tank named "Goliath" with an anti-tank missile while rescuing the King's son (Jack aka Jonathan). Thus young David is brought into the court and the drama ensues.

I always appreciate a series that is willing to give room for God to be a character. In "Kings" God's presence is shown through occasional signs and prophesies mediated by the characters' experiences of them. Reverend Samuels (aka Samuel) seem to have more such experiences than most of the characters, and these are handled in a way that is poetic without being cheesy. The writing is sharp and stylized in a way that reminds me of "The Wire," "Deadwood," and the early seasons of "The Unit." I appreciate dialog that rewards those who put down the laptop and pay attention to what's being said.

Here's a promo:


Palm Sunday Recap

Church today went very well. I arrived extra early. At Church of The Messiah the first service (and there is rarely a second) is at 10:30 AM, so arriving extra early for me is around 7:30 AM. I'm the kind of priest that needs to fuss around and do things myself like make the first cup of coffee, take the communion bread out the freezer to thaw, and reposition chairs that aren't quite exactly the way I want them lined up. Along the way I also put an A-Frame sign outside advertising the service. The point of this sign, BTW, is not so much attracting people that would otherwise not be coming to Palm Sunday Worship, but rather to help those that maybe visiting find the right door! Like most Anglican churches, the correct door to get into Messiah is not at all the obvious door! Our Parish Architect came up with some good ideas to help fix that problem, incidentally, but we don't have the money to pay for it right now. So we'll make do.

The liturgy itself went very well. The music was excellent. Matthew really showed off his versatility by leading us with (no kidding): djembe drum, piano, organ, tingsha, and harp! I really expected him to pull out a flute for something, but I think that will have to wait until Maundy Thursday! It all worked well, especially when he began the service with a drum-circle style prelude.

There were a bunch of visitors, which was terrific. Plenty of energy and lots of strong liturgy. Tons of kids running around, as usual, including some that had been away on spring break.

After the liturgy and chatting with some folks I spent the next hour with the confirmation class. They are such a great group of kids. We are really taking our time to develop a well-bonded group, and I'm sure the results are going to be fantastic. I want them to experience relationships that transform their lives! I'm also continually impressed with Kerrie's gifts for working with them. I'm learning a lot from her. We are going to keep meeting with the kids through the summer, and in September we'll round out the prep with a retreat at Holy Cross and then the Confirmation service itself!

A couple of things I'm thankful for right now. I'm thankful that the Healing Prayer Service is doing well enough to continue indefinitely. I'm also thankful that the Mom's group has started up. I'm utterly convinced that the future of Messiah is in creating flourishing little ministries like this. I imagine a bunch of them with different and often overlapping constituencies, many of whom are not going to be coming on Sunday mornings. So these little churches need to be church for them.

Part of the challenge is getting to the place where these church groups can operate without my direct involvement. There simply isn't enough of me to go around to support more than a few initiatives of this sort, but if we are able to build true lay ministry, then our capacity becomes limitless. I'll still be connected, of course, but I won't be in the center of these groups like the model of parish ministry usually requires.

I think the key for this is finding people's passions and empowering them. But that means really getting to know my people and what turns them on about God. Interestingly, I'm not always sure even they know what that might be! Discernment, discernment, discernment. Mission is all about listening!

I still have so much to learn about how to transform a parish culture--and yet I've come so far in the last year. I'm really starting to get excited about what is possible by the grace of God. I imagine one of the next things to explore is rebooting the workplace bible study as a multi-parish partnership. I'm also fantasizing about developing some creative Alt.Worship expressions rooted at Messiah.

It's a clear blue sky, you see?


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Requiem for a Teacher

Continuing the theme of monk friends.... This from Robert, OHC's Superior, who gave a touching sermon at the funeral of an Associate of the Order he had known for many years, Diana Smith. She was a teacher, and Robert sees something very important in that for understanding Diana:
In a recent lecture given at that great Jesuit University — not Georgetown but Boston College — theology professor Fr. Michael Hines talked about the vocation of teaching. He said:

I’ve come to think that if there is one single virtue, it’s integrity. By integrity, I don’t simply mean honesty. I mean the word literally. It’s the quality of being an integer, an entity. It’s what happens at your wake when your spouse talks to your pastor, who talks with your business partner, who speaks with your next-door neighbor, who talks with your children, who speaks with your doctor, and they all know that they knew the same person. You weren’t a series of masks worn for different relationships. You were complete.

Diana was indeed that. An integer. An entity. Complete. No matter how much or little you knew of Diana or about Diana, what you always got was… Diana.

Perhaps that’s why she was so fascinated by the Benedictine monastic vision. At its heart, the monastic goal is to arrive at integrity, to leave behind the divided heart, to will the one thing necessary with singleness of heart and soul and mind. It is of course the Christian vision. It is, I daresay, the human vision. It was Diana’s vision. Let it be ours as well: yours and mine. (source)


Reading in Context

On his blog Adam, OHC, recommends a book for better understanding the NT social context of the Gospel:
An old friend, Phina Borgeson, years ago, recommended the work of a cultural anthropologist named Bruce Malina to me. I went looking and eventually discovered his major work, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Originally written in 1979, and now in its third edition, Malina outlines major cultural categories that are different from ours. I have to say that this book completely changed the way I have read older texts, and not just the ones from the New Testament period. This alternative cultural understanding opened my eyes to the possibility of the double focus, the hermeneutic shift, not simply as a theoretical possibility but actually.

Malina uses major categories of cultural anthropology and compares those of the New Testament period with our own: Honor as the primary cultural value instead of material and professional success; the absolute importance of locating oneself in one's in-group for identity instead of achieving one's own autonomy; finding one's psychological identity in what others think of you instead of cultivating your own interior self (the dyadic personality); the idea that the wealth of the world is a fixed quantity (limited good) and all that flows from that in terms of fixed status hierarchies instead of our assumptions of social mobility; and so much more. (source)

Seems like a worthy book to explore...


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Photos From Holy Cross

I took these on our recent retreat. If you like mine, you'll love Randy's!

This wise old Oak stands between the Guest House and the Church.

A place to watch the river

The Bell Tower with the iconic angel weather vane

The Tabernacle in the Church

The Crypt Chapel--The Founder is entombed behind the altar


The Beckoning of Lovely

This project in collaborative creativity has been gaining momentum for some time. Recently it produced this very cool happening in Chicago near the giant silver bean sculpture.

I think this sort of thing has interesting implications for evangelism and mission. For one thing, it show people's capacity to create meaning and express very profound things given a structure in which to do it! It also shows just how eager people are to participate in these kids of organic flash-mobs of well-meaning strangers.


MagCloud--a New Way to Publish Magazines

Prepare for a revolution in the magazine world--MagCloud is coming. Essentially, it's an on-demand magazine printing business developed by HP that eliminates all of the start-up costs normally associated with magazine publishing. All you do is create your magazine as glossy and beautiful as you want it and then upload it to the MagCloud Site. When someone orders a copy, the company prints it off and mails it, charging 20 cents per page off the top. So if I make a 30 page full-colour magazine and charge $12 per copy, MagCloud will keep $6 and the pass the rest back to me. They also handle all the shipping, subscription management, etc. You, the editor, can charge as much over the printing cost as you like. You can also sell advertising.

The whole system is in Beta, so no shipping to Canada, yet. Imagine making a glossy parish newsletter this way. Of course, the real challenge would be generating enough original content to fill all these pages!


Monastery Sleep vs. Parochial Insomnia

Here's a mystery for you. Why is that when I'm at the monastery I can easily go to sleep at 9:30 or 10 pm and wake up 8 hours later without a hitch, but when I come home the insomnia is on me like a cheetah? If Acedia is the "noon-day demon" (as the Desert Fathers called it) then surely insomnia is the "plague that stalks in the darkness" (Psalm 91:6)*. As soon as I'm at home the anxieties mount right back up again I'm restless with thoughts of all the problems besieging me and mine. I might feel better if I talked about some of them, but alas almost all are far too classified to share here except in the most vague and useless ways.

When I was at Holy Cross this morning I watched the river pass by as the sun rose--sipping my coffee on the Cloister waiting for the Mattins bell. I thought about Siddartha (the book by Hesse, not the historical Buddha per se). At one point the eponymous character spends many years ferrying people across a river. Hesse says that the river teaches him wisdom. Staring at the Hudson as the sun gradually rises--seeing a doe some hundred yards away grazing in the meadow that slopes to that river--I totally understand what he means. The river flows by, and we look at the river and not the noisy, busy waves nor the barges bringing fuel oil to Albany. Enlightenment seems so easy when you are staring at a metaphor at 6:50 A.M. with a good fair trade organic coffee warming your palm.

Back in Toronto, worrying about a dozen things, it ain't so easy. Many years ago when I was getting ready to leave the Monastery after my first extended retreat (Lent 1998) I asked Bede whether it was possible to preserve the mindset created by monastery living out in the conventional world. He replied that the only people he has known able to do it had deeply cultivated meditation practices. A few years later I would meet Susan T. and others whom have done precisely this--but it's hard, very hard. I know from experience that the barrier is not having "enough energy" or time, but rather the willingness to make great and fearless self-sacrifice. In my own case I suspect, secretly, that I choose not to pursue such a peace because it would mean abandoning delusions I'm still quite fond of.

Sometimes I'm tempted to say that being a parochial priest with parish responsibilities works against having a contemplative practice, but I know that's false. The truth is that the only thing that works against having a contemplative practice are our attachments. The problem is that many of these attachments go so very, very deep. It takes great patience and love to penetrate so deeply--which is why even in Buddhism enlightenment in rare. Luckily Christianity doesn't ask so much of us, and we are promised perfection through Christ in some later time. The point eschatology is not fireworks and a moment when we can say "see--I told you so," but rather the promise that given enough time, every conflict that needs to be resolved will be resolved.

One of my spiritual teachers once told me that the reason intractable conflict exists among certain people is that some personalities need to encounter each other in conflict. The conflict is somehow necessary, but that doesn't mean it's helpful, merely necessary! One thinks of those steel balls that collide to demonstrate Newton's Laws.

So is the conflict between a parson and the things that keep him up at night similarly necessary? I know some who say they are. The roof will always be on the verge of leaking. There will never be enough money. There will always be a sermon to write. Yet the anxiety that hovers at the corners of these thoughts seems to be about something else entirely, something that has little to do with roof repair, stewardship, nor homilies. Something about me.

I'm sorry to say I can't push that insight any further tonight. But I do know that I'm home...


*That reading of Psalm 91 isn't reaching as far as a glance might suggest--the various difficulties listed in psalm 91 ("the arrow that flies by day," "the sickness that lays waste at mid-day," etc. were actually understood, in Hebrew, to be particular demonic entities and not such poetic ways of saying random violence, fever, et. al.).